The Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has exacerbated New York City’s problems with crime. This has rattled locals and tourists alike, who believe that the most populated city in the United States “has lost its essence.”

“Of all the things we have to do when we’re talking in New York City specifically, crime, crime, crime are the top three,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor made his remarks regarding the conditions in New York City during a press conference in his office in Manhattan on Wednesday, May 26. He explained that the city will not recover from the effects of the pandemic unless people can feel safe again.

“We have a major crime problem in New York City. Everything we just talked about, with the economy coming bac, you know what the first step is? People have to feel safe… New Yorkers don’t feel safe and they don’t feel safe because the crime rate is up. It’s not that they are being neurotic or overly sensitive – they are right.”

Crime is up by 30 percent in New York City, with violent crimes surging. Data for April shows murder is up by 16 percent compared to the same month in the previous year. Felony assaults have increased by 35.6 percent, rape incidents by 52.8 percent and shooting incidents have skyrocketed 166 percent over the same period last year.

Cuomo said he believes a large part of the problem involves the fact that New Yorkers no longer trust the police. The answer to this problem is to reform policing without defunding it.

“Defund the police is not the answer in my opinion,” said Cuomo. “Defund the police basically means abolish the police. That’s going to help? Gun violence going up, all crimes going up, your answer is abolish the police?”

Cuomo’s comments were thinly veiled criticisms of his political rival and current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The mayor folded to pressure from Antifa and Black Lives Matter activists in 2020 and defunded the New York City Police Department (NYPD) by $1 billion.

Lack of consequences has emboldened criminals to work out in the open in Times Square

Even regular New Yorkers have lost faith in their city and are lamenting its continuing decline.

“I just want to go home. This is dangerous,” said Brandon Lee, 27, a visitor from Jersey City, New Jersey. He said this to journalists from the Daily Mail while he was watching a man have a mental breakdown in Times Square.

Andy Hort, a business owner in Times Square, now tries to avoid the area as much as he can. “There’s a lot more crime and a lot more drug addicts and vagrants everywhere,” he said. “In the last three months, I’ve seen three or four people shooting up right in front of me.”

According to Tom Harris, acting president of the Times Square Alliance, around 206,000 people visited Times Square on Saturday, May 22. This is down from pre-pandemic levels of 365,000.

“Times Square has lost its essence,” said one NYPD officer patrolling the area. “People come here now and just sit. Before, things were much more organized and orderly. Families came in from out of state, out of the country, for shows. Now it’s a more urban, younger vibe.” 

The police officer added that it has become exhausting for him and other NYPD officers to try and control the low-level crimes that occur in and around Times Square. These crimes include drug sales and harassing behavior. “I’ve arrested most of these guys already, and issued them summonses. It doesn’t stop them.”

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